Here’s a story you might expect to read on a site like The Onion, or see on an episode of This Hour Has 22 Minutes: LG is busy cleaning up a PR mess after a promotional event they ran in Seoul resulted in twenty injuries (including seven hospitalizations) when an unprecedented number of people showed up armed with BB guns (and at least one with a knife mounted to the end of a long stick. Seriously).
What was the promotion, you ask? To generate buzz about its new smartphone, the G2, LG planned to give away 100 vouchers for a completely free phone (valued at $850 USD) by releasing helium balloons each containing a free phone voucher.
Even reading that now, as I write this, I can’t help but think it was kind of a dumb idea.
To be fair, I don’t think LG necessarily could have predicted that people would arrive armed at the event. That said, I can’t help but wonder how exactly they expected this to go down. Helium balloons are pretty much known for rising—that’s what helium does, after all. How many times have you seen a small child in tears because their balloon escaped their hand and was swiftly carried away on the wind? So when they envisioned releasing these 100 balloons, did they expect people to…wear stilts? Climb trees? Hop in a low-flying aircraft of some kind? I just can’t imagine what they were picturing would happen, exactly.
I do have to give them kudos for trying to think outside the box and do something different. These days, most giveaways involve digitally throwing your name into the proverbial hat and hoping to be drawn randomly from potentially thousands of other entries, which is both boring and discouraging.
No one gets excited about a randomly drawn contest on the Internet or in a magazine, because they have no real hope or expectation of winning it. An in-person giveaway awarded through an element of luck but with a limited pool of competition, on the other hand, is exciting—and that excitement will definitely create buzz around your product/brand/what-have-you.
The moral of the story, from my point of view, is that it’s always a good idea to try to do things differently and come up with creative, interesting approaches that will catch people’s attention—but you also need to carefully walk through exactly how your idea will play out, and try to think of all the possible ways it could go wrong.
You might not predict exactly what will (or could) happen, but you may come up with enough other possibilities to save yourself the headache anyway. In the same way that new parents consider how a potential baby name could be warped on the playground, from a PR perspective it’s vital that you consider the worst case scenario, however absurd it might seem, and either find ways to mitigate that risk or come up with another idea altogether. You just never know when your positive publicity stunt could turn into BB gun-related hospitalizations and mass chaos.
As a company in the PR business, we expect the experiential marketing firm behind this grand idea has likely found itself with one fewer client immediately following the first BB-to-human contact that occurred at this stunt. With any luck, no knives attached to long sticks will find their way into the boardroom while they discuss the results of this event to LG executives, who may have approved the promotion but are likely as stunned as the rest of us with its results.